UK

Tony Blair Says Consider Voting Tory Or Lib Dem Where They Oppose Hard Brexit

Ex-Labour PM says leaving EU is bigger than party loyalty.

23/04/2017 18:16 BST | Updated 23/04/2017 20:52 BST
BBC
Tony Blair wants to "return as many members of parliament as possible to parliament that are going to keep an open mind on this Brexit negotiation until we see the final terms".

Tony Blair says people should consider voting for Conservative or Liberal Democrat candidates at the general election if they oppose hard Brexit.

The ex-Labour Prime Minister has urged voters to set aside party loyalty in an effort to block “Brexit at any costs” that will happen if Theresa May wins a “steamroller election”.

Blair, who also hinted he was tempted to return to frontline politics as an MP, argued it was more important to “return as many members of parliament as possible to parliament that are going to keep an open mind on this Brexit negotiation until we see the final terms” in an interview with the BBC Radio 4’s The World This Weekend.

Asked whether he was backing voting Lib Dem in a lot of cases, he said:

“What I’m advocating may mean that. It may mean voting Labour. It may mean, by the way, that they vote Tory, for candidates who are prepared to give this commitment.”

Blair said he was not urging people to vote tactically but “vote on an informed basis on this issue”.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has faced criticism for perceived lacklustre campaigning for Remain during the EU referendum, and not showing enough opposition to hard Brexit as legislation made its way through parliament.   

Blair, who said he will vote Labour, told the programme the prospect of Britain leaving the single market was fuelling thoughts of a comeback. He said:

“I feel for the first time since I first came into politics, I look at the British political scene at the moment and I actually almost feel motivated to go right back into it.

“I just feel we’re allowing ourselves to be hijacked by what is actually quite a small group of people with a very strong ideology.

“Someone like Theresa May, you look at her and she’s very sensible, very solid, she’s a perfectly decent person, I agree with a lot of what she says - what she says about energy costs today, most people would say ‘fair enough’.

“But on this issue, which is the biggest issue of our time and which will have a dramatic impact on our future, on our economy, on our living standards and on the younger people of this country, on this issue she’s not reasonable.”

When jokingly told Labour may still be in search of candidates for the June general election, Mr Blair replied: “Well, I tell you what I fancy, I fancy doing whatever I can to at least make this debate in the election into a proper debate.

“She, okay, we can read the polls... I’ve never known polls like this.”

In response, Labour MP Chuka Umunna and a prominent figure in the Remain campaign dismissed an “anti-Brexit alliance”:

“No ifs, no buts: voting Labour and maximising our position in Parliament is the best way to stop Theresa May’s hard Brexit.

“I campaigned passionately and around the clock for the UK to remain in the EU during the referendum campaign last year. I led the Labour IN for Britain campaign in Greater London, and played a leading role in the cross party Britain Stronger In Europe campaign. I am a leading supporter of Open Britain and chair the cross party Vote Leave Watch campaign.

“I am passionately opposed to a job-destroying, cliff edge, hard Brexit and am standing for The Labour Party on a platform in Streatham where I am clear: I will be fighting for Britain to stay in the Single Market and the Customs Union if re-elected.

“I am equally clear that the best antidote to the direction Theresa May - a hostage of the extreme Brexiteers in her party - is taking the country, is the strongest possible Labour opposition and the greatest number of Labour MPs.”

Jack Taylor via Getty Images
Labour's Chuka Umunna.

He added:

“I could never ever countenance suggesting voters support Liberal Democrat or Conservative candidates on account of their Remain credentials - this would require turning a blind eye to the cuts to our local schools, the NHS and other public services instigated by both parties in Government from 2010 to 2015 and carried on by the Tories alone since 2015, which all our communities are now suffering from.

“What the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives have done to our public services in government since 2010 and the cuts to support for those on low incomes, the disabled and others in need is utterly unforgivable. Whatever common ground Labour people may have with them on Brexit, we cannot ignore or forgive this.”

Blair’s call to even consider voting Tory in certain constituencies prompted an angry backlash from a former aide to Jeremy Corbyn.